Here It Comes Again

Winter.

Forget fall. Autumn and spring seem fleeting in this part of the country. Blistering heat, wildfires, and drought suddenly give way to moderate temperatures with some  sprinkles. That lasts about a day and fall is done. The only other sure sign that the changing of the guard is occurring is junior’s empty bed. School has begun.

As Winter cannonballs itself onto the scene, it gives me the impression of being alive.  It’s a supernatural being that changes not only the landscape but your frame of mind. For us, living in the rough, winter grabs hold of your thought processes and emotions and dominates. You can’t not think about it as you have to rearrange your entire life around it. It won’t be ignored.

The first year we were here Winter seemed to wage a battle against us. Being invasive by nature, it crept into our trailer and froze our water pipes as I systematically hunted down each draft and cold spot and crammed whatever material I could find into crevices and holes.

Since we couldn’t wash our dishes inside due to the frozen pipes, I piled them all in a big tub to take to the shelter we were temporarily staying in to wash. They were forgotten and the whole lot froze into a huge dishburg that didn’t thaw until spring What Happened To Our Dishes Last Winter.

One morning I was inspired to write a poem when I noticed frost creeping up the inside trim of the door: Cold. Giving it a name and acknowledging it as a sentient being helped me to deal with it.

Cold

 I’m not looking forward to all of the work ahead of us.  The what-ifs have begun to play over and over in my mind: What if the car gets stuck again. What if the water pipes freeze. What if we run out of wood. What if.

I compiled a never ending to-do list last week. Everything from insulating the windows and doors, skirt the RV, take down the tent we never used after I set it up last summer, hang all of the extension cords, chop and stockpile the wood. Today we bought an ax to dispatch the trees on the hillside for firewood. I personally don’t like chainsaws due to lack of experience and being from King County.

I try to temper my snowmageddon anxiety by reminding myself that if the car gets stuck we have shovels, portable pads to place under the tires for traction, and salt. We developed a protocol for dealing with the rest of the issues like keeping the hoses in the basement of the fifth wheel between uses. We run a heater fan in that space 24/7 to keep those and the water pipes thawed.

I buffer my anxiety with thoughts of sledding, creating snow sculptures and of course, Christmas. I’m not sure the thought scale is even but we asked for this. We wanted four seasons and we got two and two quarters. It’s better than the 365 days of rain in the Puget Sound region we left behind.

Writing also helps stave off winter worries. I’m looking forward to sitting by the crackling fireplace making blog posts while I thaw out. The construction of the fireplace is the single best improvement we made regarding winter and it has a story of it’s own.

Two Years Ago Today

We left King County Washington; Destined for our new home on the range.

Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down  A Dream played on the radio as the first hint of daylight tinted the eastern sky. We were driving a 1986 Ford F-250 my husband lovingly called Bridgette pulling a 2001 Jayco Light travel trailer with a very unhappy cat stowed inside. We were on the home stretch of Hwy 395 headed for Colville Washington.

That was two years ago today.

The space between that day and now has been packed with memories a person cannot make up; plenty of material for a blog. Survival trumped all else for the first year while we carved a place for ourselves amongst the Ponderosa Pines on the iron rich bedrock.  Survival is still the main theme of daily life out here.

To be cliche, I have cried and I have laughed in almost equal measure during the past two years and things will continue to be tough until we finally build a real house. Water is coming from a spring we dug and we get our energy from two gas generators and a solar power system. I’ll be so glad when a glass of water and a shower non longer involve moving mountains.

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 We gained a new cat and relocated another feral one. We’ve learned a lot about setting up systems for every day needs and making them work. We put up a huge portable shed and half built another that’s coming down eventually. We’re still living in a fifth wheel but plan on building a small log home as soon as a deal we have in the works comes through.

I’m not looking forward to another winter of zero degree temps as the fall equinox approaches although we’ve kind of learned how to drive in the snow and have a fireplace to keep us warm.

We’ve learned to live with the wild life for the most part and our garden is two years old and full of half eaten tomatoes and squash. I’m  growing a gigantic pumpkin that I’m proud of and we introduced morel mushroom spores to the side of our property where they were absent. We even discovered small amounts of fine gold after looking for two years.

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 Looking forward, we’re  a lot wiser now but have an understanding that humility is a necessary state of mind out here. Never take anything for granted and never get over confident.

Perhaps most remarkable is that we’re even starting to get along with the neighbors. That’s true progress.

 

Yard Carp, Gobblers, Cats, Skunks One Brown Bear And One White Rabbit

“Tell Dale to make sure the door is shut because wild animals are getting into the house”.

This was my response when our son left the trailer door open on accident the last two nights and as near as we can figure, one feral cat and one skunk who like cat food paid us a visit. We got rid of the cat door for a reason.

Learning to live with the “locals” has consisted mainly of putting up fences and keeping doors shut because we don’t necessarily want them in for dinner (unless it’s a gobbler).

My husband loves the “hordes” of turkeys that cross the property daily. The adults have a crop of youngsters that make peeping sounds and are currently cute. I wonder at what point does a turkey stop peeping and start gobbling? Is the transition from cute to ridiculous slow or overnight?


Deer are called yard carp around here and they have finally made it into our garden. The fence is almost seven feet tall but apparently not high enough. They still prefer tomatoes and squash leaves. I put a motion sensor light near the garden after considering making the fence even higher. I was on my way with supplies in hand when I got distracted by one thing or another. That was enough to derail the project until next year.

Seeing a white rabbit feels lucky; not so much a bear.

In addition to our other friends, a very large muscular cat or bobcat decided our place would make some great new territory so we trapped and relocated it farther out into the hills last week. Hope it doesn’t find it’s way back Homeward Bound style.

We spend all of this time and energy keeping the animals at bay then go and bring more home. That would be our cats.

The Small Small Trailer

An essay in inadequacy.

I’ve been wanting to write more about the vehicle that was our home for over a year after we sold our house back west as it deserves honorable mention. We’ll never forget the time we spent safely tucked behind it’s half-inch walls. The trailer is a 20′ Jayco Lite with canvas pullouts on each end. It was designed as a camper trailer … the kind you take the family for a weekend campout in, not live in for a year. That was not our plan, I assure you.. it just happened as some things do.

When I spotted it in an ad, I was sucked in by the extra amenities and the price. Plenty of room for the job as I saw it at the time. It came with a TV, radio, almost a wood stove (renovations had been started for the project), an air conditioner, central heating and something else so appealing I’ve forgotten what it was. It also came with a badly rotted floor which I didn’t know about at the time. The rest was standard.

We spent a summer living in the thing expecting to find a property with a house. We didn’t, and ended up tubed in for a year too long. The single table inside was only big enough for my son and his computer so I spent a lot of time doing whatever in our bunk at the rear or in the shed we half-built. My husband even moved his TV and Xbox outside during the summer. Just too cramped.

The sink was too small, the bathroom was too small and the hot water heater was glitchy and it became an art form to pull a shower off in the approximately six minutes available if the water didn’t boil over first. The pipes froze solid during the winter and imagine doing dishes outside in zero degree weather at a makeshift table. It happened.

We managed to break not one but two windows and had to tape them up and when the freezing temperatures hit, we had a major problem on our hands what with the canvas walls of the pullouts. We were clearly unprepared. That seems to be the story of our lives.

We ended up putting rigid sheet insulation and plywood around the walls and over the roofs of the pullouts but zero degrees doesn’t care. The rain had a tendency of finding a way through all the tarp we put over it too. Wet mattress pads, sheets and pillows were the order of the day. I don’t know how we survived but we did.

Some time during the summer the rotten floor made itself apparent and we crawled under the contraption to shore up the floor with two by fours to prevent a “yard sale” while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles an hour.

There isn’t much between the outdoors and the humans either in a canvas pullout. One night the roof caved in on my face. I could feel paws on top of me as my husband half slept. When I screeched at the cat, he said “are you sure it’s the cat?” Helpful. One night shortly after we’d set up camp on our new property, we heard something that sounded big scrape up against a trash barrel outside just feet from our heads. My husband continued to take the outside position in the bed.

Last fall we got a fifth wheel for a temporary upgrade, not knowing for sure when we’d be able to build a real house but our fifteen year old insisted that he didn’t want to see the Jayco go to waste. He’s a teenager and still occupies it’s space.

We were quite happy to say goodbye and move next door forty feet away. At least we no longer have to worry about Mr. Foot reaching his hand under the canvas wall and making away with my husband.

 

Bear

Doesn’t take much of an explanation. A bear showed up last week and made the circuit between us and our neighbors a few days ago. The neighbors called Fish and Wildlife to make a report. On our end, we’re making sure everything that could attract a bear is locked up tight.

We’ve been watching the cameras and being really careful. I haven’t seen it in any videos for the past couple of days. We’re hoping it’ll move on. It was pretty big.

Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to their water heaters but ours came with a story.

We are afraid of it as we’re unfamiliar with it’s inner workings and are concerned it may blow up at any moment. It’s not the heater’s fault nor that of anyone involved with it’s design or installation; they’re just suspicious-seeming by nature. It doesn’t help that we’re ignorant of such things despite over a year of living off-grid in an RV.

When we first got the thing, we had recently seen an episode of Mythbusters wherein the guys purposely removed all of the fail-safe measures on some water heaters and cranked the heat up. The tanks shot hundreds of feet into the air after smashing through mock ceilings without effort, giving my husband and I pause as to what our own rocket/heater might be capable of. But let’s back up.

When we came by our fifth wheeler it had been gutted and refitted for use with city hookups such as electricity rather than for it’s original purpose of boon docking. The electric water heater that had been installed was gobbling our energy so we ordered a propane model. It arrived promptly and we managed to get it nestled into the side of our RV without much ado. We carefully hooked up the gas, checked for leaks and lit her up.

Everything went fine as we turned the bathtub spigot on and off to check the rising temperature but the water got hotter and hotter and stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing ignition, we turned it off and called it a night.

The next day we exchanged the old faucet for a new one and the water ran fine but continued to overheat. We shut it down for a second time to save our very lives lest we recreate that episode of Mythbusters.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

We needed a professional. Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We gave them a call and explained the strange behavior of our water heater and made an appointment. Although they didn’t normally deal with RV type systems, they were willing to come take a look. We kept the unit shut off while we waited for our savior- his elevated status growing every day we went without the ability to shower.

Then the day arrived and “he” showed up. He didn’t have six-shooters on his side but he came with a notepad and a toolbox.  Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as the repairman stole sideways glances at the beast waiting silently in it’s hole on the side of the fifth wheel.

Finally, our man adjusted his collar and approached the offender with a swagger and a coolness that would make John Wayne jealous. He stared at his foe for a moment or two then reached out confidently and began to manipulate the dials with the authority of a….well…appliance repairman. We stood a good ways back and watched with mixed fear and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume our personal hygiene routines.

Then we heard it; the rocket-like flame of the gas feed shot to life as the man cocked his head and squinted suspiciously at the device while he made his final adjustments. With a satisfied nod he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

His words will haunt us forever; “I turned the heat down.”

 

 

 

Itching To Get Out

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid soil. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees.

Morel season is quickly approaching but not fast enough so we settled for a drive up the road to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land near us the other day. The DNR owns a ton of land that they manage for recreation and various other commercial and governmental type uses.

This area is well laid out with dirt roads threading through forested hillsides and mountains. There are a couple of silver mines, plentiful sources of wood that some hardy locals take advantage of to make a living (they are a special breed), and hidden huckleberry patches known only to some inhabitants. We’ve been promised to be taken out to pick but have been warned that the bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray as we always do The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville station of the Colville National Forest for some advice as my husband has been chomping at the bit to go on some overnight backpacking trips. I asked if there were really Grizzly bear in Washington state and in Stevens County and the answer was “yes”. The ranger said they hung out closer to the Canadian border and at higher elevations so I think we’ll stick to the lower. I was instructed to spray our bear spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally to create a sort of wall in front of us before the animal gets close if we are unfortunate enough to have an encounter with a predater. Good advice. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest. The staff warned of hidden holes and falling trees as dangers so I think we’ll stick to safer places. There’s plenty out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza which is free but you can download road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest in addition to being able to navigate off-line. We could have used that a couple of years ago when we got lost in the Snoqualmie National Forest Lost In The Woods; Twice In One Day.

There is wild asparagus coming up although I have yet to find a single sprig, and crawfish waiting for my pot although I have yet to learn the spots they like here locally. We knew the other side of the mountains fairly well (except the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets; more like begging.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking promising looking rocks and I dug a hole right into what, to the best of my knowledge, is a geological fault. Our own private one. How’s that for a selling point? Our property has the perfect geology for possible gold and comes with natural springs . Couldn’t get any better for a geology/nature fanatic! Take a look at the map I found showing the fault. The photo is crummy but you get the point.

The back of our SUV is crammed with gold panning/prospecting stuff just in case; classifiers, my pan, my sluice, a shovel, the Fish and Gold Pamphlet required by the state to have in our possession so there are no excuses should we be caught out in the field breaking the law. 🙂

The Wild West

This morning when I opened our front door, my eyes were greeted by a skunk rummaging through the bag of garbage we forgot to take to the enclosure rather than three inches of new snow but nevertheless, it’s a sure  sign we ain’t in Kansas anymore.

Our family moved from the “burbs” to the outlying areas of Stevens County Washington almost two years ago now. We didn’t plan it perfectly, maybe not even fully responsibly, but here we are still although I sometimes wonder if we did chew off more than we could handle.

The differences are cultural on top of pragmatic between the burbs and the country. Here there’s a palpable attitude of “buck up” although I often wonder if that’s really necessary. My preferred “trail mix” is not overly-done PC with some buck up added for good measure.

We aren’t super liberals nor super conservative. You wouldn’t catch me dead wearing Birkenstocks, wool socks and a denim skirt nor will you ever catch me posing with my latest kill. Each to their own with no judgement. We are in the middle on most things and for us, a moderate approach to life works.  We love this area and the people though, and are grateful for the breath of fresh air that is eastern Washington.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of listening to another of our neighbors taking target practice on the upper property. After a few hours of it, I decided to look up the laws of the state and county as it was close and a bit unnerving. It didn’t help that the title of the county’s official welcome pamphlet was The Wild West and had the same “get used to it” tone. Is it possible to live in the sticks without this?

State law clearly precludes any shooting within five hundred feet of a house or any structure and an earthen berm is required to absorb the impact of the projectiles. The neighbor was shooting from about three hundred and fifty feet with no berm.

Sigh. I decided if they make any habit of it, I’m on it. I’m not letting someone with little respect for other’s safety put me or my family at risk. Don’t get me wrong.  My husband loves firearms and I don’t really have an opinion except are you gonna shoot me on accident? They are shooting from the hillside where some dumbass almost shot one of us when we first moved in.

In the meantime, we are looking for property in the same area but with a much bigger buffer between ourselves and other humankind.

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

The petticoat of snow has quickly abated and revealed an unkempt, half-awake landscape; much like my husband’s face in the morning when he first wakes up.

We are officially in the “before the pretty green things begin to grow” and the “cover your blemishes with snow and forget about it until Spring” phase. In other words, the place looks like shit.

Little bits of garbage that strayed from trash bags are all over the place, mud has replaced snow, and everything’s a general brownish color. But you know what? I love it! Snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone…:)!

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, re-grading the road, spring cleaning the property, yay!

All in all, a sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries, frozen this and that. A lot of energy goes into keeping things thawed and now Mother Nature is taking the helm.

One of the upper springs.

We’re using our solar panels again. We missed the height of the sunny season when we installed them last year so we’re very pleased to see we can run most things all day on sunshine alone. And that’s before the proposed upgrades.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a road that we may need to hire someone to come in and fix but aside from that, the rest seems doable.

Today we are thankful after an especially trying month previous to this. Putting the sloggers on….

Happy Spring!